Transitioning From Level 3 to Level 4 in Poetry by Mary Oliver

The Journey

 

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you kept shouting

their bad advice—

though the whole house began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

but you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by lilttle,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the new world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do-

determined to save

the only life you could save.

 

 

                        --Mary Oliver

Leader Levels Described in Under 600 words

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence

is to kindle the light in the darkness of mere being

                                                 --Carl Jung, “Memories, Dreams, and Reflections,” 1962

 

The most powerful source of renewable energy for a leader is deep personal reflection—and in today’s business environment it is in short supply.  A recent report found that 1 in 3 North American workers feel chronically overworked.1  With so much daily stress there is little time for the important kind of reflection that unlocks faith, trust, courage and other vital virtues necessary for leadership. 

Throughout history we know great leaders have engaged in reflective practices (cf. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations), but strangely we know less about the content of what effective leaders reflect on when making decisions.  Based on our research, and in our executive coaching, leaders’ reflections differ depending on their level of maturity as a leader.  The content of what leaders reflect on—and also what they lose sleep over—differentiates effective from ineffective leaders. 

 In broadest terms, there are four leadership development levels (LDL) that we label simply as LDL 2 through LDL 5.2   Based on the work of Robert Kegan, LDL reflects the underlying developmental maturity to understand ourselves, others, and our situations. 3 Leaders at the lowest LDL (LDL 2 leaders) understand the world simplistically. At this level, LDL 2 leaders see the world categorically—black or white, win or lose.  Leaders at this level see the world only in terms of their own wants and needs. Thus, executives at LDL 2 tell us they reflect mostly about “winning and “controlling others.” For example, LDL2 leaders tell us they often reflect on how much better they are than others.  What LDL 2 leaders cannot reflect on is others’ influence on them and their impact on others.  Thus, LDL 2 leaders’ sole focus on their own achievements severely limits their positive influence on others. 

At LDL 3, executives rely exclusively on the outside world as the source of knowledge about themselves.  They don’t just have relationships but are defined by those relationships.  LDL 3 leaders get caught between competing interpersonal demands and feeling torn in their decision making. Often they look to the safety of the boss or in polling the group for answers. They reflect on how to keep others happy.  When negative outcomes result, they waste vital time and energy blaming others; LDL 3 leaders characteristically do not take ownership of mistakes or failures.  We’ve learned that LDL 3 leaders over dramatize the “politics” of the situation and are mostly blind to how to move followers as well as the company forward.  Importantly, they don’t have the principles to discern “the right thing to do.”  

LDL 4 leaders distinguish themselves through independence and their capacity to lead from strong values. LDL 4 leaders don’t just have values, they are their values.  LDL 4 leaders are not defined by the situation like LDL3s, but in fact, influence events around them through their values.  Thus, LDL4s are proactive rather than reactive leaders.  They are seen as leaders because they create a shared vision with others to achieve outcomes. At LDL 4, leaders reflect on how to live within their own values and embody the organization’s culture.  We find that LDL 4 leaders would rather leave the organization than to have their values compromised.

At LDL 5, leaders know that to be successful they must be more than their values. Self awareness coupled with a willingness to be vulnerable with others distinguishes LDL 5 leaders.  We have found that LDL 5 leaders reflect deeply about the best interests of the organization and how to contribute to the larger community.  LDL5s lead holistically: “it is not about us, but about all of us.”

When leaders take the time to reflect on their decisions, it is their LDL that frames how those decisions are made.  If you reflect as a LDL 5 and become intentional in the development of others and seek integration of your ideas with others, then you are likely leading with greater maturity and effectiveness. 

The First and Second-Half of Life

 

“..we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning–for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening become a lie.” --Carl Jung

Many of the participants in our leadership development programs are transitioning from LDL 3 to LDL4 which means they are leaving behind the world of being defined by others to a world of self-definition.  We talk about this as transitioning from leading from the “outside-in” to leading from the “inside-out”.  Of course, many of our participants are in their mid- 30s to late- 40s and most struggle mightily with this “midlife” transition.

Midlife is a critical transition in most people’s lives.  In the “first-half of life we take as our goal to adapt to the demands of culture.  We go to school, try and good grades, get a job, find a career, perhaps begin a family and raise children.  If we succeed we likely have a solid identity, good friends, a home, and live within a larger community.   

It is in the first half of life that we learn to leverage our strengths to get ahead and learn to lead through them.  Most named captains of sports teams are the best athletes. Similarly, most socially adept men and women become leaders in their fraternity and sororities.   In the first half of life it is through developing our strengths that we lead and influence others.  And this is how it should be in the first half of life.    

As we approach midlife sometime between 35 and 45 years of age we realize that relying on our strengths becomes a liability.   Becoming the team captain in college based on how fast or how much weight you can lift does not necessarily help you much in your first job.  Similarly, have a high social IQ in college my not help you if you don’t have job-related skills to complement your social strengths.  In mid-life this challenge and contradiction forces us to reconsider who we are and who we want to become.  At best, we grow into LDL4 and strengthen our most neglected and underused parts of our self and at worst we retreat and don’t meet the demands placed on us by our careers, spouses, and families.  We experience failure in new ways.  At worst, we don’t learn from our mistakes and grow but rather revert to what we know which is living in a LDL3 world a world defined by others and circumstances.

Transitioning from LDL3 to LDL4 is both humbling and transformational.  It’s humbling because you are re-imaging a new you.  A new you, for instance, that is more self-defined and responsible for events and people around you.  Your life’s compass in the first half of life was set by your family and significant others.  In the second half of life your life compass is set by your values and beliefs.  Owning your decisions and their consequences is the hallmark of LDL 4 leaders. 

It is much more common in mature adults to wrestle with issues of values, meaning, and purpose.  I have yet in my undergraduate classes to find students interested in writing their legacy statements.   Ask a 50 year- old in a leadership seminar to write their legacy statement and they can think, write and re-write it for hours! 

“The neurotic disturbances of adult years have this in common, that they betray the attempt to carry the psychic dispositions of youth beyond the threshold of the so-called years of discretion.” Carl Jung

The real trouble begins when people cling too long to first half of life living.  I am not sure if it is stubbornness or fear that prevents growth into a deeper more complete version of ourselves.  Maybe both.  What I do know that transitioning from LDL3 to LDL4 is extremely difficult for everyone.  That is why it is called in the medical literature a mid-life crisis.  It requires complex decisions we all have to confront.  “Who do I want to be with my spouse and children, or what kind of contribution do I want to make.”  The choice is it to re-do the life of a 20 year- old again, this time with more money, or   create a new richer life based on values and deeper more meaningful relationships?  

 

One of my great struggles is teaching undergraduates second half of life material to first half of life students. One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite shows, Deadwood, is when Hearst says to Bullock; I am having a conversation you cannot hear.  This is how it can be with conversations with young people about second half of life curriculum.  I don’t push the second half of life curriculum on my undergrads because they don’t have the experiences to call upon the need for it and hence, they are likely not listening to me anyhow.  The thing is they will confront second half of life challenges in their next decade of living and when they do I hope others are present to help them with the transition.   

Quote of the Day

"The man who views the world at 50 the same way as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life"

 ---Muhammad Ali

I grew up with Muhammad Ali and so he has been part of my life from the Thrilla in Manilla to the lighting of the Olympic Flame in Atlanta in 1996 and to his recent appearances in charity events around the country.  

In my youth, the world was bifurcated, you were either for Joe Frazier or Muhammad Ali and there was no middle ground, no safe corner to go to in the ring.   I stood with Ali through it all and it was not just because of his incredible boxing skills but because he challenged me at a young age to think about war, faith, and service to country in new and profound ways.   I remember being so amazed that he was willing to go to jail rather than relinquish his faith.  Religious leaders did that not boxers.  How did he do that?  Muhammad Ali not only had the hands of a champion but also the heart of one.  The lesson I took away from Ali's life was to never repudiate your deepest values and never give in.  He was the courage of his convictions.  

Coaching Corner

The challenge to coaching Level 3s is their inability to take responsibility or own their mistakes.  Managers at Level 3 go to great lengths to blame others for their errors in judgment or poor decisions.  They are quick to point the finger at others and will waste considerable energy thinking through situations as to make themselves “bullet-proof” from responsibility and thus criticism. The preferred way to lead at LDL3 is to have the team take a “vote” on the decision.  This way if the decision does not turn out well I can say “we decided” and if turns out well I can credit for the decision. 

 In one coaching example, a frustrated manager recounted his lack of sleep because he had 8 direct reports and had to promote one.  Emphasis on promote not fire one.  I asked him why he was losing sleep.  He said it was because the other 7 reports would think less of him and hurt his influence.  I asked him what he planned to do.  His response to me was to say that he was going to promote who he thought his boss wanted to promote.  I replied that he was going to work with this report to the indefinite future and should he not be responsible for the decision himself.  He looked at me and shook his head in disagreement.  I said, what would happen if the person you promoted failed in his job.  He looked at me and smiled that it would be his boss’ fault.  What is so apparent from his story is his construction of the situation in a way to protect himself from being responsible for his decision. At LDL3 the source of his decision making is from the outside- in which makes him responsible for the bad outcome.  And should the person promoted not perform well the manager’s easy and impulsive reaction will be to blame and point the finger at his boss.   Problem solved.  Unfortunately, because it is always someone else’s fault when something happens bad to me I never get around to learning from my mistakes which makes it difficult to grow in my leadership maturity.   

LDL 3, like LDL2s, often find themselves solving the wrong problem.  In the case above, the “problem” is how to promote a direct report that makes him “look good” to his boss and keep his other direct reports from being upset with him.  The real leadership problem which is who to promote that has the best skills to serve the best interests of the company never gets considered.   The manager’s own reading of the “politics” of the situation trumps professional competency and what is best for the company.  

Move Your Feet!

I just returned refreshed from a summer vacation on the beautiful island of Hilton Head, SC.  Our favorite time on the Island is participating in tennis clinics and learning more about the game our family loves so much.  On the first day of the clinic, Job (pronounced Yo-b) my coach from the Netherlands, stressed how important it was to learn to hit the ball in your “target zone” which is the sweet spot where you strike the ball the best.  Everyone has their own unique target zone, and I know when I hit the ball in my zone because I hit it with authority and with accurate placement.  It is the moment when I look and feel like a tennis player.

Truthfully, my real concern was that I was hitting my target zone much less frequently than either my wife or young daughters!  Then Job explained to me that to regularly hit the zone you had to care enough to move your feet and your body to put yourself in position to strike the ball in your zone. You must move your feet to hit the ball in the strike zone.  I heard him, but I’m not sure I liked his message.  This was going to take effort and require mental and physical discipline!  I knew I could play tennis well enough to hit balls without moving my feet, but if I really wanted to be a better tennis player I was going to have to care enough to change my old habits and put myself in better position to hit the ball successfully.

Old tennis habits die hard at my age. Job’s tennis clinic helped me realize how to become a better tennis player, but it also taught me an important lesson about what it takes to become a better leader, spouse and father.

If I want to become more effective, I have to learn to change my stance, or “move my feet” in relation to others. I am responsible for making the adjustments to my game and not wait for the ball to come to me. In the same way, I am going to have to change who I am in relation to the people I serve.   I can’t expect people I lead to change their behavior without me changing first.  I need to be the change I want to see in others. If I intend on becoming a better tennis player, spouse or leader in my organization, I need to care enough to begin making an effort to become more effective. The real lesson is you have to care enough about changing you–who you are and what you are doing.  If you intend on improving how you grow in leading and developing others, “move your feet” in the direction of change.

 

 

Welcome

The idea for this blog was born out my recent book “The Map: Your Path to Effectiveness in Leadership, Life, and Legacy” with my good friend and colleague, Dr. Keith Eigel. In the book we provide guidance on how to effectively grow your leadership effectiveness. The book is based on our 20-year collective experience working together with effective and no so effective leaders. While the book provided us the space to provide examples of real growth in leaders there is as much or more examples and insights that we left out. I want the blog to reflect the wisdom that others have offered me. I have been an active lurker (oxymoron?) on some blogs and a participant in others, but none of those blogs tap into my real passion which is leadership and leadership development.

In my experience blogs take a variety of forms, from daily personal journals to occasional essays. Some are individual efforts; others are collective ventures or group blogs. Some are done anonymously or pseudonymously; others blog in their own names. Some enable readers’ comments and others don’t. Blogs by academics are a very small part of the “blogosphere”—which by now according to various estimates include over 20 million blogs, the numbers change constantly and no one really knows for sure because the attrition rate is also high. My plan is to be around a while.

While I have no idea on how to formally kick off a blog, I thought it important in this initial posting to lay down the reasons why I am doing this blog. Here are reasons both big and small: Because I want a place to publish small writings, odd writings, leftover writings, musings on executive coaching that are difficult, if not impossible, to find their way in academic journals.

I am first and foremost an academic organizational psychologist who over the 25 years had the opportunity of a lifetime to be associated with great leaders of companies and institutions both large and small. My academic role as a scientist/practitioner is to create a new model for executive coaching based on constructive developmental theory and to advance the theory based on the empirical data I am collecting with the executives who work with me. In my field of industrial and organizational psychology we talk a lot about being a scientist/practitioner but I have tried to live it. My overarching goal of this blog is to spark deep reflection on bridging the gap between the theory and practice of developing effective leaders. Because I want introduce some unexpected influences and ideas into my intellectual work. I want to unsettle the overly domesticated, often hermetic thinking within my scholarly field. I want to introduce a “mutational vector” into my scholarly work.

It is very important to me that my work be usefully translatable into public conversation. If there is one lesson I have learned in a career is how useful it is to have your academic ideas challenged and pushed in the marketplace of tough, experienced, fearless executive leaders. My thinking has grown exponentially being in the crucible of capitalism; learning that client satisfaction is tricky construct in executive leadership development. More than anything I want to place to share what I have learned and to continue to learn how to be better in my coaching, teaching, and writing about leadership development.

Because I am a teacher in an academic environment I hope this blog offers the opportunity to provide my students-- in real time-- the problems executive face on a daily basis.

The truth about the extant literature on leadership development is that much of it is stale and borne out of 20th century thinking. The freshness date stamp has long expired. What challenges executives face today are qualitatively different today than they were even 10 years ago. We can label the difference globalization, exponential technologies, business intelligence, postmodernism, or whatever, but I have no doubt we have entered into new business climate full of never seen before challenges and paradoxes. I will describe those challenges here with your help. To the extent we can understand and define these emerging trends the blog will be successful.

So, there you have it, a start. I will do my best to inform, analyze the leadership mind and hopefully entertain in the way humor, tragedy and confusion brings out the best of us.